cubs azl spring training logoJust days after announcing his signing the Chicago Cubs have sent 2015 first round pick Ian Happ to Eugene. He started in center field for the Emeralds and, because of course he’s a Cubs’ first round pick, homered in the fourth inning of his second game.

It is a little surprising to see Happ begin his professional career in center given that he was thought to be a better fit at second base or in left at the time of the draft, but the Cubs have shown ample willingness to give players a chance to show whether or not they can handle more difficult defensive assignments in the past. That approach appears to be working out very well with Kyle Schwarber, for example.

Happ’s patient, switch hitting bat alone has the potential to make him a very valuable guy. If he can bring that bat to Wrigley as a center fielder, that would just make his acquisition all the more exciting. We should not expect that, though. Not yet.

And for that matter, we shouldn’t expect him to reach Wrigley either. His professional career just started; we can hold back the irrational optimism for at least a few weeks.

Standings Watch

Iowa : 36-32, 3rd place.

The Cubs did not have a bad week, but they slid a little in the standings nonetheless. Omaha passed them by half a game for second place, and Oklahoma City now sits an even ten games in front of the Cubs.

Reinforcements could help Iowa close the gap, and they add a significant bat this week when Schwarber departs the majors for Triple A. Iowa fans are lucky. Schwarber will begin his Iowa career with an extended home stand.

Tennessee : 38-30. 2nd place.

The Smokies won quite a few games this week, but they gained no ground on Chattanooga. As a result, the Smokies have been eliminated from first half title contention.

They still have a chance at playoffs, though. All they have to do is win the second half title. That could prove to be tricky if the Cubs make some roster shuffles in mid-summer. Many of the Cubs’ better minor league trade chips are in Tennessee, as are some players who could move to Iowa at any time. I would not be surprised if the second half roster does not quite have the same level of overall talent as the first half roster.

Myrtle Beach : 40-28, 1st place.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans did manage to clinch their first half title and secure a slot in the playoffs. The Salem Red Sox mounted a challenge and successfully closed the gap on Myrtle Beach, but they just ran out of time. The Pelicans clinched with a two and a half game lead.

South Bend : 28-38, Last place.

The Cubs, long since eliminated, will finish the first half with the worst record in their division and the fourth worst record in the league. When the records reset for the second half, though, the Cubs will have just as good a chance as any. In fact, given that they actually have a pretty good team from a talent standpoint, it would not be all that surprising if they went worst to first.

Eugene : 1-2, 4th place

Eugene did get their first win out of the way, but they are still looking for their second. So far all their games have been on the road, and the Northwest League has appeared to be, in general, a very home friendly team most years. This week they come home, hopefully for a nice long winning streak.

Arizona : 0-1, 2nd place

The Arizona Rookie League is barely underway, and unfortunately the Cubs lost their home opener. Since they just started, though, this is the perfect time to take a look at their roster.

Prospects In Arizona

The Arizona Rookie League contains a mix of international players starting their stateside professional careers, players taken in the 2014 draft, players taken in the 2015 draft, players recovering form injury or changing position, and players who have been working on some particular element of their game in extended spring training. There are a lot of names on this roster, and a lot of them are unfamiliar… even to me. I will run through a few of the highlights, but this is not going to be an all-inclusive list of AZL Cubs prospects to watch.

At the top of my watch list coming into the league is Wladimir Galindo, a big (6’3″, 210 lbs) third baseman making his U.S debut at the age of eighteen. He posted an OPS of .818 in the VSL last year, including seven home runs. He has shown a fair bit of patience already in his career, but like most young sluggers he is a little strikeout prone. His plate discipline and emerging strikeout to walk ratio will something I monitor closely this summer.

Also making his stateside debut at the age of eighteen, and also from Venezuela, is switch hitting shortstop Andruw Monasterio. Monasterio did not put up huge numbers in his one season in the VSL (.292/.368/.343, 14 SB), but he did walk fifteen times to only nineteen strikeouts. Those figures are doubly impressive when you consider how young he is; this guy won’t turn nineteen until late May next year. Right now he is probably more enigma than prospect from our perspective, but he’s a notable enigma.

One name you should recognize is Joe Martarano, a big slugging third baseman who doubles as a Boise State football player. Martarano’s size (6’4″, 235 lbs) says slugger, and it is for that powerful bat that the Cubs drafted him last year. Since he is only a part time baseball player we can expect his bat to lag behind the normal progression for a player his age, but given that he only had fourteen trip to the plate last year we really aren’t sure what his bat is capable of anyway. He hit cleanup and collected two hits in his first game this season.

The starter in the AZL Cubs’ opener was Austyn Willis, drafted in the eighteenth round a year ago. He struggled with his command as he started his professional career last summer, but he also posted a GO/AO of 1.85. The Cubs have shown a fondness for acquiring tall starters who can generate ground balls in recent drafts, and at 6’6″ it looks like Austyn Willis could be cut from that mold.

Other pitchers to note on the roster include 2014 draftee and arm surgery recovery guy Dylan Cease. Cease has as much upside as any pitcher in the system if he can come back from his injury healthy. Erling Moreno pitched in both the VSL and the DSL last season at the age of seventeen, and in his brief time on the mound he showed some ability to get both groundballs and strikeouts. He is a right hander with a starters’ build, and is probably a name to keep an eye on. Carlos A Rodriguez opened this season with the VSL Cubs, and I am glad to see this lefty getting another shot in Arizona. He is only nineteen, but he is already in his fourth year as a professional. In 22 innings in the VSL this summer he allowed just 15 hits while striking out 23.

At the plate, it will be interesting to see how Jenner Emeterio shapes up. This guys has been an on base machine in the DSL for the past three years (career .416), and he’s stolen a total of 73 bases in his career. He is older for an AZL guy (he turned twenty two in March), but if the OBP translates to Arizona he could start jumping up the system.

And finally, there is a player I know virtually nothing about. The Cubs signed Carlos Sepulveda out of Mexico over the winter, and this eighteen year old left handed hitting second baseman is now beginning his professional career. He has no stats and few available scouting reports, so we will just have to see how his game comes together. He is officially listed on the AZL Cubs website as being 5’10” and 10 lbs, but I’m pretty sure that’s not right. I’ve seen a lot of surprising things in the minor leagues, and a ten pound infielder would probably take the grand prize.

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